Trip To Europe – Vienna (last part)

After a well-deserved sleep in our hotel room, we decided to leave Vienna. First we had breakfast, and then we got up to our room, starting to pack. In about 35 minutes we were all packed, luggage in the car, and check-out completed. But we couldn’t resist to attend to one more of Vienna’s attractions: … Read more Trip To Europe – Vienna (last part)

The Trip To New Zealand – Waiheke Island

The best part of my trip to Japan was New Zealand. I’m joking of course. After I finished my staying in Tokyo I took the plane for Auckland. I had to stay 2 days in the “City of Sails” for some business related tasks. Part of my relocation process to New Zealand is setting up a company there and this trip was supposed to add the final touches to this project.

The flight from Tokyo to Auckland was on a Air New Zealand cruise and was quite busy. Never had a flight over that part of the Pacific and this one proved to be quite a shaky one. Out of 11 hours of flying I don’t think we had 2 hours without turbulence, if we sum up all the small, 5-7 minutes of smooth going. The good part was the plane had a working entertainment system, and the captain was a rather humorous guy.

I took the opportunity to watch “Bedtime Stories” with Adam Sandler, and two movies with Will Smith, both equally bad. There was “Seven Pounds” – good plot and theme but extended way over my supportability threshold – and “Hanckok”. If it wasn’t for Charlize Theron, I would have switch instantly to “Ikegami” a Japanese movie about an orwellian, highly productive society in which people were programmed to randomly die by the age of 22. I eventually saw “Ikegami” on my flight Auckland – Hong Kong, but that’s another story.

After I landed in Auckland, and passed the security control – for some reason they thought it could be a good idea to search my luggage, because I was staying only 2 days, which was kind of suspect – I finally checked in to my hotel, 3 minutes walk from Auckland Sky Tower. The rest of the day was dedicated to the business part of the trip, and, most of it, to the jetlag, as I surprised myself sleeping without even noticing it.

Waiheke Island

I spent the next day socializing with friends in Auckland. Part of my new world there was described in another post about what you know is what you get. I had a good time seeing them again, connecting, telling stories and catching up. I was also much better from the jetlag which made me an almost bearable person.

The next day I had to check out from the hotel and take the plane on my final destination, Romania, via Hong Kong and Frankfurt. Check out was at 10 AM and my plane was at 11 PM. So I had more than 12 hours to spend in Auckland before I was actually living. And I decided to spend that time on Waiheke Island.

Waiheke Island is located north east from Auckland and is a little bit far away than Rangitoto island, the one you can see from anywhere in Auckland. Waiheke is inhabited – as opposed to Rangitoto, which isn’t – and is also famous for its wines and wine tours. Is also a destination for rock stars like Peter Gabriel and Kylie Minogue who reportedly have bought land or houses there. Haven’t seen a sign with “this is Peter Gabriel house” so I will just take this from granted for now.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is the fact that Waiheke holds one of the most precious spots on Earth for me. I already wrote about that, it’s a small beach called Little Oneroa Beach and it was one of the most enjoyable places during my first trip to New Zealand. Only the thought that I will be able to stay again on that beach made my heart go a little faster. Can’t explain this strange vibration for this place, but that’s it.

So, after I checked out I left my luggage at the hotel to be picked up in the evening and headed for the harbor, down Queen Street. I was there at around 11 AM, just in time to catch a ferry for Waiheke. The city was slowly behind us.

Auckland Harbpr leaved behind form the ferry
Auckland Harbor leaved behind form the ferry

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The Trip To Japan – Tea Ceremony

I spent the night in Kyoto in a small backpackers hostel, near Gion. It was my first night at a backpackers hostel but I found the experience quite enjoyable. I met a few interesting people and I really got to rest my feet, after what I calculated to be more than 12-13 kilometers of walking in Kyoto.

In the morning, I started to walk again and just wandered around the wonderful traditional Japanese houses until 12:30. At 13:00 it was scheduled the first tea ceremony at the tea house I just discovered the other day. I was pretty determined not to miss this.

So, at 12:30 I was again at the entrance of the small tea house, looking for the schedule. Everything seemed identical with yesterday. Today was Thursday, so it was supposed to be opened. So, only half an hour until the event. Enough time for a small walk. I breathed deeply, turned on my heels and I was almost bumped into a young lady on a bicycle. Didn’t hear her coming and noticed she had a small flower in a flower pot.

I smiled and wanted to give a Ohayo Gozaimasu salute, when she asked in a crystal clear English: “Are you here for the Tea Ceremony?”. Definitely, my odds were much more positive than yesterday. “Yes” I answered with joy. “Well, I wait you here in half an hour” the young lady said.

Tea Ceremony House

After 30 minutes here I am, opening the door of the little house. Took off my shoes and made my entrance in a room  covered with tatamis, traditional Japanese mats. Inside there were another 3 persons, a lady in between ages and a young couple. I sat down and introduced myself. The lady proved to be from Australia, mate, and the young couple from Great Britain.

The house was made on wood, an old traditional house, almost identical with the ones I photographed the other day on Shimbashidori street. On one of the walls of the first room there was a small and simple floral arrangement. The room was continued with another one, on which there were some tea tools, like pots and other things I couldn’t name.

tea-ceremony-utensils

We chatted a little and then a young lady in kimono entered and saluted.

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The Trip To Japan – Tokyo

Tokyo is an incredible urban agglomeration. It’s much more than a city, it’s an urban conglomerate made of 23 wards, with a core population of 8 million people. Adding the adjacent urban structures and we have the world’s most populous metropolitan area, with 35 million people (significantly more than my entire country, Romania, which holds 21 million people in its boundaries). Of course, you can learn that by reading Wikipedia. So why I’m starting with this info? Because the most powerful sensation you have first time in Tokyo is this overwhelming feeling of human presence. Huge, unstoppable, continuous human presence.

There are people everywhere: in the subway, in the trains, in the cars, on the streets, in the hotels, in the malls, in the restaurants, in the gaming huts, in the offices, everywhere. Silent, huge and powerful presence. 35 millions of people. And I was one of them for about a week. Welcome to my first post about my trip to Japan. It will be a mix of touristic information about Japan and my personal ramblings about what I saw.

Tokyo Transportation

Tokyo has several subway lines and a lot of surface trains. In fact, most of the transportation in Tokyo seemed to be built around trains. Although there are a number of expressways, the most important way for getting in and out of the city is by train. There are several subway lines, such Oedo and Ginza lines, and several surface trains, such JR lines, one of the most popular being JR Yamanote line. Train lines are everywhere, at the ground level or suspended, sometimes getting over each other for several levels.

Suspended train lines in Shinjuku
Suspended train lines in Shinjuku

Expressways are going up to the 8th or 9th level, while trains are going up to the 4th or 5th level.

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The Trip To Japan – First Impressions

Today is my last day of my trip to Japan, I’m leaving tomorrow for my beloved Auckland. I’m having mixed feelings right now about this trip, but I guess it’s normal. It is by far the most challenging trip I ever had, far more challenging than the trip to Thailand, and much more demanding than my trip to New Zealand.

I had a lot of things to do here and every day was filled with challenges. I wasn’t bored not even for a single second. But I’m happy to leave now. And maybe the biggest reason for being happy to leave now is the fact that I didn’t know the language. Despite the fact that I can read a little katakana and hiragana, I can’t extract too much meaning without serious knowing of Kanji. This was a huge handicap. In Thailand everybody seemed to know English and also seemed happy to talk. Here, even if somebody knows English, and even if people are most of the time very kind and willing to help, it’s very difficult to have a normal conversation. I understand that is my task to learn the language of the country whether I’m staying in Kyoto or Bangkok and I will be sure to do that from now on. But the frustration is still there.

Another reason for being happy to leave is my raw food diet. As I predicted, I had to make a lot of compromise regarding my way of eating. It’s almost impossible to keep a raw food diet as a visitor in Japan. Not only fruits and vegetables are horrendously expensive (it’s a volcanic island, after all, with little or no agriculture) but it’s quite difficult to find them, at least in central spots of Tokyo, where I was walking. Although I managed to keep a rough 50/50 balance between cooked and raw food, I still had to make big changes to my diet. And that was not ok. My body reacted extremely good to this change, I had no health problem whatsoever, which means that in the last 7 months of eating raw I improved a lot my body digestion capacity. But the fact that I can safely eat now cooked food doesn’t mean I have to. On the contrary, I miss the feelings of clarity and balance I have when I’m on my regular raw food diet.

I’m going to write more about this trip, as I’m just arranging my notes and mind maps, but I felt the need to write something about it while I’m still here. And since I’m not going to write anything descriptive or conceptual, I thought it would be better to just post some photos. Those of you who are already following me on Twitter have already seen those photos.

The following posts about this trip to Japan, which I guess I’ll be able to publish once I will be back in Romania, next week, will not follow my regular chronological pattern, there will be no day one in Japan, day two, and so on. Instead, I’ll write about places, ideas and feelings. There will be for sure posts about Tokyo, Kyoto, Tea Ceremony, Nikko and Odayba. There will be a post about Japan – the aftermath, because I leave this country with a huge feeling of growth.

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The Trip To Japan, What To Read And More

Tomorrow I’ll leave for Japan. It will be a 7 days trip followed by a two days stop in New Zealand. I always wanted to go to Japan. As a teenager I was fascinated by martial arts, by the samurai life code – bushido – and by the Japanese culture all together. As a student I started to learn hiragana and katakana by my own although my chances to go to Japan were nearly zero at that time.

Despite the fact that I had this deep wish to go to Japan, something always seemed to interfere and I had to postpone this. I postponed it so much that I barely thought I will always step foot over there. But one month ago I decided it’s time to do it. No more delays, no more excuses no more nothing: just buy the tickets, book the hotel and go. As part of my goals for 2009 this trip was suddenly simply unavoidable.

The main reason for going to Japan, apart from my all life wish, is to stretch myself, to pursue my personal development path. If you’re new here you may want to check out a full post I wrote about travel as a personal development tool. After I got back from the trip to Thailand I was so dismantled, so puzzled yet so refreshed and energized that I just couldn’t avoid to travel anymore. It’s part of my lifestyle now.

What To Do In Japan

I don’t plan my trips. I usually book the plane tickets and the hotel and this is basically all I know for sure in advance. Sometimes I take one or two guided tours just to get a glimpse of what they can offer. In Thailand, for instance, I booked a guided tour for the Floating Market in Damnoen Saeduk and I was pretty happy with it. In Japan I will only have a one day guided tour to mount Fuji, the rest is at my will. I will stay in Tokyo for the most part although I don’t exclude some one night stops in other cities, especially Kyoto.

I would really like to get some of the sakura zensen feeling (the cherry blossom celebration) but it seems I will be a little on the edge with that, from my information the climax of this was last week. Sakura zensen is one of the most interesting things to see in Japan, both from what I read and from what I heard from other people who were already there.

I will definitely visit everything would raise my interest and I won’t limit myself only to Tokyo, although I have this feeling that Tokyo itself will be really overwhelming.

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The Trip To Switzerland – First Impressions

As I already mentioned, we planned for a longer holiday in Switzerland for this year. This trip involves also a Christmas holiday in the Alpes, near Gstaad, and some other activities, most of them related to my personal life. One of the most important is getting in touch again with my sister, who’s living here for more than 8 years now.

We got here by plane, on 20th December, flying Swiss. We’re in the full formula, meaning my wife and my daughter. We enjoyed a good and silent flight, shorter than the average period you need to cross Bucharest from one side to the other. That’s around 2 hours, by the way. We landed in Geneva and checked in to a hotel. Haven’t had any difficulties on the logistic side. We didn’t had any schedule made in advance, we adjusted things on the fly. Each afternoon or evening we are at my sister’s place, enjoying family life, and the mornings are set for some spontaneous activities.

Yesterday, for instance, we tried to do some shopping at IKEA. What should be a regular ride to a store in my country proved to be completely different in Switzerland. IKEA Switzerland is outside the city, at around 40 minutes by train, in a small city called Allaman. Getting there was funnier than we thought, we had to switch buses and trains only to got there. But it was fun.

Life Cost In Switzerland

The thing that surprised me the most was the unbelievable high price of the life in this city. I knew that Geneva was one of the most expensive cities in the world. I had a previous trip here in 2005 to the Auto Show which is held at Palexpo, so I already had some insight. But seeing this again in the light of a regular tourist, the city is simply unaffordable. Especially the transportation and the food costs are too high… I know this is one of the most important cities in the world, and setting a price barrier is one way of keeping it safer, but things are simply not justifiable. Whatever.

On the other side of the high price I must reckon that the quality of the products and services delivered is over the average. Way over the average, so I have to admit that there is some justification for the high prices, after all. Especially the food is looking and tasting much better than in other cities and the public transportation is on time and clean. Extremely clean. Taxis are unaffordable, we paid 10 EUROS for a 3 minutes fare. Clothing is ok as long as you don’t shop from the fanciest boutiques downtown.

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